“Are you an effective team?”
You get up, you brush your teeth, you do your job. You come home to a loving companion, have a good meal, and sleep well because you have a promising future in a brand new place right around the corner. And yet… something isn’t right with the world. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but it seems like you’ve forgotten something…
“I know I’m dreaming, but it feels like more than that. It feels like a memory. How can that be?” - Jack Harper
Oblivion is a thoughtful, enjoyable journey that is visually gorgeous, and obviously borrows from other science fiction elements: Matrix, Moon, and Wall-E come quickly to mind, though the ingredients of this Cruise cocktail are too numerous to mention. While the film doesn’t quite achieve the weight or heft of these other stories, it provides an enjoyable tale that engages a number of thoughtful possibilities. Director Joseph Kosinski has proven with TRON: Legacy and Oblivion that his eye for visuals (and ear for accompanying soundtrack) are uniquely gifted, so I hope a superior screenplay finds its way into his hands as his directing portfolio increases.
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of good news…” – Romans 12:2
Dressed like he’s modeling for the role of Commander Shepard in Mass Effect, Tom Cruise plays drone repairman Jack Harper with a sense of wonder about his planet and a confusion about his true purpose. He’s been given a story by his superiors from above, but we realize, like Jack, that something doesn’t quite fit. He reads ancient books with ideas that challenge his acceptance of life’s situation. This serves not only the science fiction story in which Oblivion is set, but the sense of disconnect in our own lives that consistently inspires similar fiction, from The Matrix to Dark City. Morgan Freeman appears on the scene as Malcolm Beech, channeling his best Morpheus and all but offering Jack a blue pill / red pill scenario:
“I’ve been watching you, Jack. You’re curious. What are you looking for in those books? Do they bring back old memories? Don’t ask too many questions. They lied to you. It’s time to learn the truth.”
Jack lives in a home suspended high from the world’s surface: isolated, protected, disconnected from reality, a little piece of constructed paradise. This could metaphorically apply to privileged western culture, or even isolation-prone Christendom, making a happy home and allowing ourselves to be blinded from the world’s problems and those who may need our help. Keep your head down, do your job, enjoy your comforts… this seems satisfying to Jack’s partner Victoria, but there is a hole in Jack’s soul that yearns to be filled. Do we relate?
“…you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen…” – Revelation 2
A woman and a message are dropped from the sky in the story, further provoking Jack’s sense of discontinuity. It’s no longer a question of whether or not he’s being deceived, but how and why. Even worse, the “helpful” work he’s been doing, spending his days to aid mankind with the best of intentions, has actually been causing harm to the world. Another sobering note for those slipping on the shoes of our protagonist: what if the “good” things we’re doing in the name of humanity are actually detrimental? What if, because of lies regarding our origin, our best intentions are paving a path to hell for ourselves and others?
“Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.” - 1 Corinthians 3:1
Jack break from his seemingly prescribed path, disobeying the hovering “TET” in the sky, the space station that gives orders and directives. By the way, TET is a nice allusion to Tetragrammaton, a name for God in the Hebrew Bible (as well as other science fiction films). Will he breech the prescribed borders and the radiation zones that surround his work area? Will he disobey the authority in the heavens?
“And (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place…” – Acts 17
One could see a way in which the film might be hinting at a greater sense of humanism, throwing off the shackles of sky gods and any deference to deity. However, while the preceding verse from Acts 17 has a particular resonance to those who have seen the film, the “god” in question is no true or ultimate creator in this story, falling far short and only measuring up to the “god of this age” spoken of in the verse from Romans 12 passage above. A self-proclaimed ultimate authority has set up camp, defined Jack’s reality, and the story is about how these shackles are broken. We discover, pun intended, that we don’t know Jack. In fact, the same passage in Acts demonstrates why the powers in Oblivion can and should be rejected:
“The God who made the world and everything in it… does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything… that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.” – Acts 17
The story of Jack Harper is one of awakening to a false reality, to false promises, and a “god of this age” who simply needs human hands, and desires no relationship whatsoever. The attempted obscuration of Jack’s first love, of true love, becomes the fulcrum by which his soul is freed. Jack’s partner Victoria seems incapable of accepting this, out of fear or compromised affections. She can’t relate to Jack’s frustration, and won’t receive the truth he’s discovered. It’s not dissimilar from how scripture describes those who don’t believe the freeing power of the good news brought by Jesus Christ, and his sacrifice:
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:18
Kosinski fails to create a gripping climax to match the meditation and mystery in the first half of the film, and so Oblivion falls short of being stellar. While this particular narrative has been expressed in better fiction, however, Oblivion provides a satisfying medium to carry a timeless message.
“If we have souls, they’re made of the love we share. Undimmed by time, unbound by death.” - Jack Harper, Oblivion
Questions for Discussion:
- Are we asking the right questions about life – besides our “effectiveness” or success – and questioning our purpose and design?
- Do we isolate ourselves – physically, emotionally, spiritually – compartmentalizing life and keeping our head down to avoid this provocation of spirit?
- Do we truly believe the life narrative we’ve been given, or is there something we sense that is lost, fallen, forgotten?
- Are we afraid to give up what we’ve got – our passions and affections – to face the consequences if we faced the truth of our origin?
- Are we prepared to be seen as foolish, are we prepared to suffer – even die – for the truth?